By best estimates, Saint Nicholas was born in the year 270 A.D, which would make Santa Claus 1,744 years old. While Santa shows no signs of slowing down in his old age, he would be wise to think about succession planning now so that he can start to think about retirement. It’s likely that Santa hasn’t chosen one of his elves to succeed him because he leaves behind rather large boots to fill. Would Christmas ever be the same if Santa retired to a beach in Florida?

Can Anyone Fill Your Shoes as a Leader?

Santa may be reluctant to choose a successor because Christmas is truly “his” domain. He’s the person children clamor to see, his face is used to sell thousands of products, and his story has been told and retold every year by the media in an effort to capture viewers and advertising dollars. He built his empire from the ground up, and has made quite a name for himself as a business leader and master of efficiency. Would people still feel the same if Santa Claus was not the face of Christmas?

When he thinks about retiring, Santa may be fearful. He might look to the legendary Steve Jobs, who left behind one of the strongest legacies of any business leader in the modern era. Tim Cook has been doing an admirable job of steering Apple’s ship, but in the immediate wake of Steve Jobs’ passing, many people believed that Apple lost a little bit of its magic. However, the recent launch of the Apple iPhone 6 was the most successful launch of an iPhone in history, proving that a well-chosen successor can continue an organization’s legacy long after the face of the company is gone.

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Creating a succession plan is never easy. It can create feelings of uncertainty and even fear in business leaders. However, if your company has any chance of surviving after you step aside, it will be necessary to identify and train someone to take your place so that you can make your exit and still have time to soak up all that retirement has to offer.

Plan Today so That You Can Enjoy Tomorrow

At 1744 years old, Santa has long passed the age of retirement. In order to prepare his empire for success for another 1742 years, Mr. Claus should take steps now to start training his high-potential elves to take the reins when he finally steps down. In order to do that, he must:

  • Identify high-potential individuals. Potential successors will not only possess strong technical skills, but they should also exhibit some soft skills, as well. They should be driven, goal-oriented, open to learning more, and should demonstrate that they aren’t content with the status quo.
  • Create a culture of learning. In order to grow as professionals and as leaders, high-potential individuals must have the opportunity to learn. That means giving those individuals the chance to step up and take on new projects. They should be allowed to fail forward; mistakes should be treated as an opportunity grow. Potential successors should also be afforded formal career training and development opportunities to help them develop both their technical skills and their skills as leaders.
  • Become a coach. Training a successor isn’t about directing that person and telling them what to do. Rather, it is about coaching your high-potential employees by asking them critical questions and providing constructive feedback to help them tackle challenges.
  • Relinquish control. Maintaining a strong hold over everything and micromanaging his potential successors won’t do anything to prepare Santa’s elves for success. By delegating some of his work to high-potential elves, he can start to assess those individuals and see how they rise to specific challenges. As they become more adept at meeting those challenges, Santa can permanently transfer his critical tasks to those elves, setting up for a smooth transition.

We can’t know for sure just when Santa will retire, but if he takes these important steps now, he will still have time to enjoy his retirement, possibly somewhere with a bit more sunshine and warmth.
All business leaders need to consider succession planning sooner rather than later. Unlike Santa Claus, we mere mortals won’t live on for centuries. However, with a solid plan to identify and coach high-potential leaders, business owners and executives can ensure that their organizations will live on long after they are gone.

This Christmas, as you pause to consider your personal joy, surrounded by friends and family, take some time to consider your business and your own succession plan. Make strides to start off the New Year with an eye on the future. I wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday season and a prosperous 2015.